by John Romley, Prodyumna Goutam, Neeraj Sood
Some models of vaccination behavior imply that an individual’s willingness to vaccinate could be negatively correlated with the vaccination rate in her community. The rationale is that a higher community vaccination rate reduces the risk of contracting the vaccine-preventable disease and thus reduces the individual’s incentive to vaccinate. At the same time, as for many health-related behaviors, individuals may want to conform to the vaccination behavior of peers, counteracting a reduced incentive to vaccinate due to herd immunity. Currently there is limited empirical evidence on how individual vaccination decisions respond to the vaccination decisions of peers. In the fall of 2014, we used a rapid survey technology to ask a large sample of U.S. adults about their willingness to use a vaccine for Ebola. Respondents expressed a greater inclination to use the vaccine in a hypothetical scenario with a high community vaccination rate. In particular, an increase in the community vaccination rate from 10% to 90% had the same impact on reported utilization as a nearly 50% reduction in out-of-pocket cost. These findings are consistent with a tendency to conform with vaccination among peers, and suggest that policies promoting vaccination could be more effective than has been recognized.